New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has signed HB 560, a bill that would stop civil asset forfeiture in the state.

The bill had passed unanimously in both houses of the state legislature, each controlled by the opposite party, but the governor was strangely silent about her intentions until signing it at the last minute.

FreedomWorks, who were rallying grassroots support, reported two days ago that over 4,000 calls had been made to the governor’s office.

There was concern that the bill would be vetoed, or pocket vetoed, by the governor as had been done with a similar bill passed earlier this year by the Wyoming state legislature.

Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Matt Mead vetoed a bill in that state that would have stopped the government from taking property without a conviction, without even charging people with a crime.

As Wyoming State Rep. Kendell Kroeker said, “Civil asset forfeiture violates the 5th, 6th, and 7th amendments to the US Constitution.”

In opposition, Gov. Mead, a former federal prosecutor, said that civil asset forfeiture was “a right” of the state and that “crime should not pay, especially drug crime”.

Unfortunately, enough Republicans in the Wyoming state legislature caved to partisan pressure and changed their votes on the bill so the governor’s veto was not overridden.

Civil Asset Forfeiture, introduced by the Reagan administration in 1986 as a tool to fight the “War on Drugs,” removed the presumption of innocence, removed due process where a person would have be convicted of a crime before having property taken, ignored constitutional protection against excessive fines, and had the government taking “civil” action against inanimate property.

Forfeiture proceedings would be a cross between Franz Kafka and Lewis Caroll with titles like “U.S. vs $9,000 in cash” or “U.S. vs Lear Jet serial #12345”.

In this Alice in Wonderland legal environment, the cost and time involved would prevent most people from recovering their property, or it would ruin them financially if they tried.

It’s interesting that Gov Mead would say in defense of civil asset forfeiture that “crime should not pay”.  It pays very well for the law enforcement organizations that keep the proceeds. And it incentivizes their criminal actions that violate the Constitution they swore to uphold as condition of their employment.

At the national level, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Tim Walberg have sponsored again, the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act.  It would address:

– law enforcement’s profit motive

– re-establish a presumption of innocence

– prohibit excessive fines

– stop incentivizing theft by law enforcement by not giving proceeds to those who take it

– stop the confiscation of cash with the charge that deposits were “structured” if the cash is from a legitimate source

At the state level, 20 states have measures before the legislatures that would limit federal forfeiture.

Related Articles